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Amy Coney Barrett and the People of Praise: How to respond when critics don’t understand our faith

Amy Coney Barrett and the People of Praise: How to respond when critics don’t understand our faith

Judge Amy Coney Barrett is nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. on September 26, 2020. Barrett, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on September 18. | OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett are set to begin on Oct. 12. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the committee should clear her nomination by Oct. 26, leaving the Republican-led Senate roughly a week to confirm Barrett before the Nov. 3 election.

Attacks on her family and faith have already begun. 

Focusing on the fact that she and her husband adopted two children from Haiti, one critic suggested without any evidence the possibility that “her kids were scooped up by ultra-religious Americans, or Americans who weren’t scrupulous intermediaries & the kids were taken when there was family in Haiti.” Judge Barrett and her husband have also been likened to “White colonizers” for adopting “Black children.” 

If past is prologue, we can expect more character assassination attempts in the weeks ahead. 

Many critics have focused on the fact that Judge Barrett is a member of a group called People of Praise. Newsweek headlined: “How Charismatic Catholic Groups Like Amy Coney Barrett’s People of Praise Inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.'” Their original headline incorrectly claimed that People of Praise directly inspired the dystopian novel; editors were forced to issue a retraction and change their headline (though not the “reporting” in the article itself). 

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Such guilt by association was echoed by other outlets but has been soundly debunked. This controversy illustrates an important point about the state of our culture and the best way for Christians to respond. 

'Glaring gaps in religious knowledge'

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Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan explains that People of Praise is part of the Charismatic Renewal movement that began in the 1970s and “emphasizes personal conversion and bringing forward Christ’s teachings in the world.” Noonan notes: “Members include Protestants as well as Catholics. They have joined together intentionally, in community, to pray together, perform service, and run schools. They’re Christians living in the world.” 

David French’s response is especially helpful. He quotes this New York Times description of the group in 2017: “Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another, and are assigned and are accountable to a personal adviser, called a ‘head’ for men and a ‘handmaid’ for women. The group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.” 

French responds: “The more I looked into People of Praise, the more I had two simultaneous thoughts: First, many millions of American Christians see echoes of their lives in Judge Barrett’s story. And second, lots of folks really don’t understand both spiritual authority and spiritual community. The concerns about Barrett reflect in part the glaring gaps in religious knowledge in elite American media.” 

He’s precisely right. 

'A war for worldview dominance'

People of Praise took “handmaid” from Mary’s response to Gabriel’s announcement that she would become the mother of God’s Son: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38 KJV). (The group later changed the term to avoid confusion after The Handmaid’s Tale came out.) 

French reports that the group has been lauded by Cardinal Francis George; one of its members was appointed by Pope Francis as auxiliary bishop of Portland. It has founded three schools that have won nine Department of Education Blue Ribbon awards. 

The furor sparked by misunderstandings of Judge Barrett’s faith illustrates an admission New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet made to NPR’s Terry Gross, “We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives.” They’re not alone. 

A recent study reported that only 2 percent of America’s millennials hold a biblical worldview. Among Gen X (thirty-seven to fifty-five years of age), only 5 percent subscribe to such a worldview. Only an estimated 9 percent of adults over the age of fifty-six hold a biblical worldview. 

George Barna noted that the report “suggests a nation that is at war with itself to adopt new values, lifestyles, and a new identity. In other words, there is a war for worldview dominance.” 

How do we win this “war”? Let’s close by focusing on an important part of the answer. 

'His kingdom shall never be destroyed'

Across the coming weeks of divisiveness over confirmation hearings and the presidential election, my prayer for Judge Barrett and for all believers is that we will demonstrate the integrity of Daniel. 

His political opponents “could find no ground for complaint or any fault” (Daniel 6:4), so they reverted to attacking him “in connection with the law of his God” (v. 5). However, the Lord redeemed Daniel’s faithfulness so miraculously that King Darius eventually proclaimed: “He is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end” (v. 26). 

Like Daniel, we face opposition that does not understand our faith or believe in our God. They need and deserve our compassion and our witness. But they will receive neither unless we live with such integrity that they see the unmistakable imprint of Jesus on our lives. 

If skeptics are going to find fault with us, let them say that we are too committed to our Lord. 

Is this what the world would say of you?

Originally published at the Denison Forum 

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Adapted from Dr. Jim Denison’s daily cultural commentary at www.denisonforum.org. Jim Denison, Ph.D., is a cultural apologist, building a bridge between faith and culture by engaging contemporary issues with biblical truth. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture in February 2009 and is the author of seven books, including “Radical Islam: What You Need to Know.” For more information on the Denison Forum, visit www.denisonforum.org. To connect with Dr. Denison in social media, visit www.twitter.com/jimdenison or www.facebook.com/denisonforum. Original source: www.denisonforum.org.

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